Jesus the Priest
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Thanks to advances in medicine, leprosy is not a disease that we worry about today. That was not always the case. In the ancient world, leprosy was a dreadful disease. To be infected with this disease was to face a grim future that included infection and disfigurement, exclusion from the community, and ultimately death. These lepers lived a life of living death. Their disease cut them off from their families and their communities. They were, according to the Law, unclean and therefore without access to the presence of God. Now these men—one of whom was a Samaritan—were bound together by their affliction. Under ordinary circumstances they would have had nothing to do with each other. The Jews would have considered the Samaritan unclean. But now they are tied together by this common bond.
Luke tells us that as the Lord Jesus made His way through the midst of Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem, he approaches an unnamed village. And as He approaches that village, these ten lepers standing afar off cry out to Him: "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" They dare not get to close for the law kept them apart less they spread their disease. They were judged to be contagious. They could only cry out from a distance for mercy. They speak their prayer for us mercy for they know themselves to be in need of mercy. Mercy is God withholding from us the wrath and judgment that we deserve. If grace is God giving us the favor that we do not deserve, then mercy is God not giving us the punishment that our sins deserve. Mercy is that divine pity that will not let sin have its way with us and pay us off in death. So just as in the Divine Service, where the Lord Jesus approaches us in His Word, and we cry out in the Kyrie, "Lord, have mercy upon us"; these men implore the same Lord to have mercy. They beg Him not to turn away from them in their need.
Now Jesus answers that prayer in what appears to be a strange sort of way. In effect, He tells these lepers to act as though they were already healed. He says, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." In the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, those who thought that their leprosy was cured were instructed to present themselves to the priests. The priest was to examine the leper and if his leprosy was indeed gone, the priest would perform a rite of purification and cleansing and offer the appointed sacrifice. Leviticus says, "So the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean."
So these lepers take Jesus at His word and off they run to the priest. Luke writes, "And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed." Can you imagine their sheer joy as they look down at their hands and arms to discover that the hideous disease is gone? Gone are the things that had characterized their existence as lepers. Luke doesn't tell us how they responded to the healing. No doubt they went to the priests, were examined, declared clean, offered the sacrifices and returned to the their homes full of gratitude that their flesh was restored to health and that they were reunited to family and friends. Luke zeroes in the leper who could not have gone to the temple; he could not be seen by a priest because he was a Samaritan. He was doubly unclean. He was unclean because of his leprosy, but he was also unclean because he was a Samaritan. The temple was off-limits to him.
So what does this Samaritan do? Listen again to the words of our Gospel: "Now one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks." It is not merely that the Samaritan has enough good manners and common civility to return to say "thanks" while the other nine men were self-absorbed and didn't have the decency to express their gratitude to Jesus. Rather, the Samaritan comes to confess that Jesus is God in the flesh, for it is Jesus who has healed him from leprosy and restored him to life.
The Samaritan's worship at the feet of Jesus is a confession that Jesus is the Temple of God; He is the Priest who gives us access to God. The temple was the place where God caused His glory to dwell. Hallowed by His name, the temple was the place where God had located His presence for His people. But now that temple of mortar and stone is fulfilled and replaced by Immanuel, God in the flesh.
In the Old Testament, the temple was the place of sacrifice. The sacrifices were the means that God had appointed for the covering of sins and the cleansing of those who were defiled by their sin. And those sacrifices pointed to Jesus Christ who came in our flesh as the Lamb of God to bear our sin and be our Redeemer. He came without spot or blemish, perfect man and true God to die as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. He is both the priest and victim of sacrifice. By His death, He has blotted out our sin.
The Samaritan ex-leper got it right! He knew where to worship. He fell down at the feet of Jesus glorifying Him and giving thanks for all His benefits. Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Son of God is the place of our worship. Like that leper now cleansed of His leprosy we are where Jesus is. And Jesus is here just as He has promised. He is here in the Baptism that joins us to His death and resurrection. He is here in His words that give us the forgiveness of our sins. He is here with His body and blood to give us the pledge and testament of life and salvation. True worship takes place where God locates Himself, where He puts Himself for us. That's why Christians reject as paganism the old argument that says, "I don't have to come to church to worship God. I can worship God on the golf course." It is not that God is absent from the golf course, but that God has not promised to be there for you, to give you the sure words of salvation in Christ.
The Samaritan's life was restored. It was lived on the strength of all that He had received from Jesus Christ. God grant that blessing for us as well as He draws us week after week in this place to hear His Gospel and eat and drink at His Table; for He will say to you, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well." In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.